The Power of Expectations

The weather forecast for These Parts calls for high temperatures in the sixties today, but there’s a winter storm watch for tomorrow with the possibility of significant snow accumulation.  If the typical pattern holds true, colleagues and students will be wildly excited about the possibility of a snow day or two (in some cases, Ms. X and Mr. Y may be more excited than their students), and the grocery stores will be full of folks desperately seeking another gallon of milk, another loaf of bread, and all the other things folks buy when winter weather threatens.  And then, if the typical weather pattern holds true, since this is seems to be a Storm From the North, there might be a few isolated flakes Tuesday afternoon, with bitterly disappointed colleagues (and maybe a few students) as scheduled school activities continue as planned.  And if, by some chance, snow actually starts falling Tuesday afternoon and leads to a snow day or two, Ms. X and Mr. Y can be counted on to moan and whine about making up the day whenever Powers That Be schedule that.

Of course I could be pleasantly surprised, and I hope that happens.  Maybe Ms. X and Mr. Y will look at the weather map, think of all the false alarms over the years, and restrain themselves from asking each other to “do the snow dance” this time.  Maybe they’ll notice a student (and there are some in every school, of course) for whom the prospect of a day at home (or a day in the cheap motel room or emergency shelter that currently passes for home) is more terrifying than exciting.  Maybe they’ll look at the student they wrote off as “bad and lazy” and see … something deeper, something different.  Expectations are powerful, but they’re not all-powerful … and change is possible even when you least expect it.

If you’ve worked in a factory-school setting for any length of time, you probably know about the power of expectations.  For that matter, if you’ve ever worked with other people, you’re probably familiar with the cycle of expectations.  I fully expect my Latin students to reach somewhere between Novice High and Intermediate Low interpretive reading proficiency on the ACTFL scale by the end of Latin I, to be solidly in the Intermediate Low range by the end of Latin II, to be moving on toward Intermediate Mid to High proficiency by the end of Latin III … and because I expect that, and we live the expectation in our daily work together, most do.  Ms. X and Mr. Y fully expect ¨bad, lazy students” (with a few shining exceptions), and because that’s what they expect and how they live, that’s generally what they get.  Powers That Be at the school level expect some of the best test scores in the Local District, and that’s usually what they get, too.  E and J expect fairly good grades with minimal effort, and that’s what they tend to get in Ms. X and Mr. Y’s class … and then, when I’m tempted to be upset by what I perceive as their lack of effort, I remember how much more they’re doing in their time in the Latin Family than they do in Those Other Classes.

It’s always possible to change expectations, of course, but it’s tricky work when the expectations are old and firmly established.  U expected to get acceptable, but not wonderful grades in Latin, and he expected to sit and absorb things passively.  But then an odd thing happened: he discovered he really enjoys learning the language, and the grades moved from acceptable but not wonderful to much better than he had expected.  I don’t think I was surprised, but U certainly was!  He’s become a real leader in large-group reading activities, and as I thought about how far he’s come over the past few months, I was close to tears.  Why?  Because U could have discovered the spark of joyful learning years ago, but one Ms. X and one Mr. Y after another, blinded by their own expectations, failed to nurture the spark.  And that’s true of T, B, G, and so many of U’s friends and classmates, too.

With the expectation of a normal school schedule this week and little, if any, interruption from winter weather, the Latin Family will be embarking on its first full week of its new configurations.  The new Latin I class, which keeps gaining wonderful new members, has read the first few Fabellae in Tres Columnae Lectio I; we’ll be officially discovering, today, that Latin words take on different forms in different roles in a sentence.  We’ll finish off the Lectio I sequence, and then we’ll start researching Roman family names and roles for our first Minor Assessment product, which will probably be ready on Wednesday.  The intermediate and advanced groups will be doing some review work with noun forms, reading some Latin (Tres Columnae “bridge” stories for the Latin II’s and III’s, selections from Eutropius about interesting points in Roman history for the IV’s and AP’s), and starting to think about their first Minor Assessment products, which should be ready to present Thursday.  I’m hoping that the power of expectations will sustain us as a joyful learning community even in the midst of the distractions and challenges we’ll certainly face … and that very hope, I realize, calls on both the power of expectations and the power of community itself.  Having learned to expect the unexpected, too, I’m holding onto those plans more loosely than Ms. X and Mr. Y, who (for all their childish or child-like wishing for snow days ahead) also tend to moan and wail about changing Those Lesson Plans.

I wonder what new, unexpected opportunities await us today and in the days to come!

Published in: on January 27, 2014 at 11:36 am  Leave a Comment  

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